Backyard.com – Quite a Production

Backyard produces creative content for some of the best ad agencies and top brands in the world. Headquartered in Culver City, CA, their team of talented directors and seasoned producers deliver a collaborative creative process that builds happy client relationships.

The Backyard brand is nearly 30 years old. Fellow Chicagoan, Founder, and current CMO/Managing Director of Backyard, Roy Skillicorn talks about the company and the domain that represents it.

 

Mike: I read that you founded Backyard with Chicago photographer Tony D’Orio in 1988 while you were working as a rep for PIXAR. What inspired the idea for Backyard and what was your vision at the time?

Roy: I was a rep for Pixar, Colossal Pictures, and HKM at the time I started Backyard. All were start ups that I helped establish by not only finding them their first projects but also repped them all throughout the eighties. Since I had had such luck finding initial work for companies that soon became powerhouse live action and animation entities, I asked them all if they wouldn’t mind me starting something in Chicago for local work. They all agreed to allow me to rep them while starting Backyard. After the first 6 months I took on a partner who had been a student of mine when I was a young high school art teacher. He helped in numerous ways including back office tasks, bidding and production leaving me to what I enjoyed: sales. My vision for Backyard at the time was to create destination to do smaller, local work while keeping my representation business going for the big national work I was enjoying. When bigger national work started coming in for us at Backyard, I folded Skillicorn & Associates, my representation company, to focus 100% on Backyard. This proved to be the right move and we soon were getting work from the best agencies in NYC and from the west coast. I moved the entire company including the secretaries and assistants to Los Angeles where we eventually became a $50 million company.

 

Mike: You founded Backyard in 1988 and domain names were hardly even in existence. When did you aquire Backyard.com and did you purchase it on the aftermarket from someone or were you the first to register it?

Roy: We were early and we were the first to register it.

 

Mike: You’ve recently returned to Backyard after founding it and building it into a successful company, then founding the award winning Seed Media Arts. What brought you back to Backyard?

Roy: Upon selling Backyard in 2011, I started Seed Media Arts and modeled it after the changes I had suggested to my partner and producers at Backyard. I saw the business changing, where the advertising and marketing business was headed from being on the street and by talking to hundreds of clients and agency folk. Those changes were rejected though. I was and I still continue to be on the street and in the trenches. That gives me insight into the future and at that time, I saw what was coming in 2008-2010. I created Seed with very little overhead.

Intermittently I judged the the goings on at Backyard, being the company I started. I continually heard that directors and producers that I had hired over the 22 years, were leaving. Later, I saw that the new management and owners even discarded the iconic logo that my wife had designed, a logo that was so well liked, well known and respected. Then I heard that the company had finally downsized as I had suggested years before. Recently I came to find out that all the directors I had brought to the company and all but one producer had left and that it had been sold to a new owner. As fate would have it, I found the owner lives in Chicago and I clicked “connect” on Linkedin. He contacted me soon after and asked me to rejoin the Backyard team as Managing Director.

 

Mike: How important has the name Backyard.com been to the company’s success? Do you feel you would have achieved the same results had you registered a name like “BackyardProductions.com?”

Roy: Backyard Productions is the real name of the company BUT everyone calls it Backyard and as the name connotes, it is a friendly and casual place. Backyard.com just made sense. Simple is always the best.

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Domain Search Tools

10 Reasons Why You Need a Break From Domaining

At times, I’ve submerged myself in domaining to the point where I have made irrational decisions.  It’s a serious condition that can be avoided if you maintain a moderate level of domain exposure, ample vitamin C, and daily exercise.  Excess exposure to domaining, on the other hand, can be dangerous to you and those around you.  Fortunately, there are early warning signs developed by the scientific community that you can look out for.  I originally posted this one back in 2010 but as I was recently re-reading it, a few more symptoms came to mind.  Here are 10, no… 15 reasons why you may need to take a break from domaining.

15.   You spend too much time during work reading lists like this one.

14.  You’ve tried to coin a new word just so you can register it and sell it for millions.

13.  You put a “dot” on your license plate with some black electrical tape.

12.  You dressed as Rick Schwartz for Halloween.

11.  You screamed with excitement when YourName.Dentist was available for hand reg.  You’re a plumber.

10.  You hand regged all the ingredients on your cereal box this morning, including hydroxypropylmethylcellulose.org.

9. You give domains out for gifts on holidays.

8.  You can’t remember your cell phone number but you can rattle off your top 300 domains from memory.

7.  You think it would be cute to name your kids .com, .net, and .org.

6.  You’re monthly Godaddy invoice is larger than your mortgage.

5.  You scream out “WaffleIron.com” in the heat of passion.

4.  You judge your friends by how many global monthly searches they get on Google.

3.  Your license plate says  DOMNERS

2.  You have a tattoo of the “I Heart Domaining” button on your chest.

1.  You honestly think hydroxypropylmethylcellulose.org is an awesome domain name.

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Website Domains For Sale

Rick Schwartz is Reading My Mind

I prepared a domain related book review that I will be publishing later this month and in it (not a spoiler) I mention veterans like Rick and also newer domainers.  By newer, I mean those that weren’t on the domain train the moment it left the station, but had to catch it a bit further down the line.   Then, to my delight, I see a post by Rick yesterday declaring exactly what I was going for. It Does Not Matter WHEN you got into Domaining, It Matters WHERE you are Going!

Sure, we would all love to have purchased the names Rick purchased back in the golden days, but we didn’t.  That doesn’t mean there still isn’t a way to make money in domaining.  In fact, we see entrepreneurs buying high dollar premium domain names all the time because they know the value they hold for their startup.  We also see smaller opportunities with non-dot-coms, domain hacks (hate the term, but yeah, I used it), as well as domain books, blogs, coaching, brokering, name suggestion tools, and more.  There is not a limit. Don’t think narrow with an eye on only single keyword  domain names that cost more than your house.  There are other opportunities.

Rick is a little more “in your face” than I am about things, but here are some of the facts he places right in front of us:

– “Plenty of people were in domaining YEARS before me!”

– “Not only did I start domaining in 1995, I restarted again from scratch in 1998 after I leased out all my domains”

-“I repeated that one more time around 2005.”

-“And then starting in 2016 thru mid 2018 I started once again.”

-“Go out and MAKE IT HAPPEN!”

I don’t know of a single repository listing names and net worth of late-to-the-game-domainers who have done quite well, but these individuals are out there.  Plenty of them.  Yeah, it takes work.  It’s not easy.  You need to think. Use your ingenuity.  But you can do it.

Thanks to Rick for reminding us all of what’s possible and starting out 2019 with a little tough-love motivational ass-kicking.  Sometimes we need it.

 

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What would you expect to find on Roadster.com?

When I first keyed in “Roadster.com,” I was half expecting to see some fancy hotrods on such a cool name.  To my surprise, I found an commerce platform.  But I wasn’t disappointed.  I actually found this branding to be quite fitting for the product.  Roadster provides consumer driven commerce solutions for today’s modern dealership. With Roadster’s proprietary technology platform, dealerships can provide hassle-free car buying in-store, online or on the go. From inventory merchandising, to financing/leasing, incentives, trade-ins and F&I– Express Storefront delivers near penny perfect deals in a beautifully designed interface that your customers and employees will love.

Michelle Denogean, CMO of Roadster took time out of her day to answer a few questions for me.

 

Mike: How did you decide to name the company “Roadster?”

Michelle:  When we named the company, it was very important to us that we not only select a memorable name, but that the name itself represented a premium experience.

 

Mike: How have commerce platforms changed for dealerships over, say, the past 20 years?

Michelle:  Most of the commerce solutions in dealership to date have been very dealer facing and disconnected from one another, making it hard to for sales people to easily access the information they need to complete the transaction. The big shift has been to providing tools that are customer facing– providing customers with more transparency and control over the deal making components. This goes beyond just eCommerce that is plugged into a dealership website for online car buying, these are tools that customers can use side by side with sales agents in the showroom to streamline the experience and save both parties time. Companies in the past have tried to deploy eCommerce, but they were ahead of their time. The industry wasn’t ready and frankly, consumers weren’t quite ready either. While the number grows daily, the percent of consumers who are buying cars 100% online is still very small. Commerce platforms like Roadster are working to streamline the experience in-store so that as the number of online transactions grows, dealerships are ready with their internal sales process to accommodate those online transactions.

 

Mike: How does your platform differ from the others in the industry?

Michelle: The biggest differentiation is that we are truly omnichannel– customers can start online and finish in-store or the other way around. Our solution is white labeled for dealerships to use on their website, or in the showroom with customers. We have spent the past several years building out tools to be used in-store so that customers can have a streamlined experience and sales agents can feel more empowered. This includes our latest roll out of Express Desking, that allows sales agents to review all of the possible deal terms with a customer, make adjustments and get approvals without leaving the customers side. We are one of the most comprehensive platforms on the market, both integrating with all of the backend systems that the dealership uses to process the transaction, but also in the amount of data and customization of the data that is available to ensure the numbers we show are as close to pencil perfect as possible.

 

Mike: Can you talk about how you acquired the domain name and what the process was to complete the purchase? Can you share what you paid for the name?

Michelle:  The process was pretty straight forward. We went through a domain broker to purchase the name. We are not at liberty to share the amount paid at this time.

 

Mike: What volume of traffic do you see just from having a great domain name like Roadster?

Michelle:  It varies greatly. When we first started the company, we were a direct to consumer car buying service. In June of 2018 we pivoted the company to be 100% focused on the B2B side of our business.

 

Mike: Do you invest in other types of marketing or is the domain and organic search results enough?

Michelle: We absolutely invest in other kinds of marketing. We do a little bit in Paid Search, but our primary vehicles for driving demand are organic media (PR) and content marketing via social channels and our Roadster blog. With a name like Roadster, we focus heavily on brand opportunities that can lead to organic search overtime.

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selling domain names

Seafood.com hand registered in 1994

I’m always delighted to come across the original owner of a keyword premium domain name. Most of us, even as professional domainers or hobbyists, can only imagine having done that back in the early 90′. It’s been great to talk with John Sackton and hear his story about the domain and the evolution of his business.

John Sackton began writing seafood industry news in 1977, and has worked in all areas of the industry, from fisheries management, trade associations and magazines, to running his own seafood import business, to being General manager for Baader North America. In that capacity, John got to know most of the major seafood processing companies and vessels from Alaska to Mississippi to Newfoundland. After leaving Baader in 1994 John founded Seafood.com to provide news services, market analysis and consulting to industry.

Mike: When you registered the name back in 1994, did you have any idea of how good the name was?

John: Absolutely not. Back in 1994 in Boston I had been working on a project to produce monthly seafood commodity reports on CD-Rom to distribute to subscribers. On a whim, a neighbor and I went out to Microsoft’s annual development conference that year, in San Jose. His sister had an apartment there. I think George Lucas was a keynote speaker. But at that conference I discovered the internet.

Immediately when I got back to Boston I searched for a domain name, abandoning the idea of CD-Rom in favor of online distribution. The first one I tried was fish.com. That was then owned by a Buddhist group in San Francisco. Then I thought I would try seafood.com. Bingo, it was there. This whole process took less than five minutes. This was in June of 1994. It never occurred to me for one minute to search for other domains that might have been available.

Mike: Since then, have you registered other names (other than seafoodnews.com)? If so, can you provide some examples? Have you done anything with these names?

Yes. As we built out our website, we quickly got into the business of helping other seafood companies register domains and set up websites. I think we had onlinelobster, we also have seafoodlink.com, seafooddatasearch.com, fishfacts.com. We have never done anything with these domains, as at that time we were mostly providing a service helping others register domains in their own name. Many of these were company names, like Stavis.com, Ore-Cal.com etc. Our own domains we used for testing sites, parking files, etc. Nothing too serious.

Mike: Prior to the interview, you mentioned to me that in the year 2000 there were 37 competing sites all trying to set up seafood online trading exchanges. How did you fit into the mix and how did you take the turn to focus on seafood news? Is seafoodnews.com now your main business?

John:  Seafoodnews is definitely our main business. We have now moved on from 1995 to 1999-2000. There was an explosion of venture capital interest in internet trading platforms, as part of the dot com bubble, and seafood was no exception. There was fishmarket.com, tradingseafood.com, worldcatch.com, gofish.com, and many others, all with the same pitch to VC’s: that they would capture the entire seafood trading business from the current wholesalers and middlemen and brokers, and earn revenue on every transaction. Some of these sites raised serious VC money, on the order of $35 million or so. But the trading platform in seafood was elusive. When they crashed and burned, there was generally hell to pay.

Remember online bulletin boards. Our first venture into seafood trading was that we ran an online bulletin board where people could post offers to buy and sell fish. We did this as a free service. A lot of it seemed garbage to me, but then at an industry meeting some one came up to me and said he had made $25,000 off one trade on our site, arranged through the bulletin board.

We began to wonder how we could actually leverage trading in a responsible way. At this time Seafood.com partnered with another company, Urner Barry, which is the oldest commodity price reporting company in the US, founded in 1858. They are the only ones with a reputable seafood price reporting service which runs on subscription. Our value was to add seafood news to their existing site, and their value was to explore whether a trading platform could compliment their business. Our 25 year partnership was sealed with a handshake, and survives to this day.

But we quickly realized that those who claimed a large percentage of seafood trading would move on line were wildly out of touch, and their revenue projections for their businesses were hot air. We approached VC’s as well, but with a much more tempered expectation of growing a profitable business, but not revolutionizing the industry. We did get some money from Rabobank’s VC arm, but it occurred the exact same month as the NASDAQ crash in March of 2000.

They urged us to merge with another company they had funded, called tradingproduce.com. Trading Produce was not invested in a open trading platform, but instead was building direct links between produce sellers in California and their customers around the country to make purchasing more efficient. In essence they linked the producers sales and inventory system directly to the supermarket or foodservice buyers internal procurement system on the internet in a secure way.

Our job was to explore this for seafood, and to use our news service to drive interest in their site. That company was very successful. It was renamed itradenetwork (I came up with the name), and in 2010 after many acquisitions across meat, poultry, logistics, produce, it was purchased by a private equity group for over $500 million in 2010. They now have over 10,000 customers, 17 of the top 20 North American Supermarkets, most of the major foodservice buying groups etc.

But the news service did not work out, nor did their platform gain much traction in the seafood industry. After less than 2 years, at the end of 2001, I unwound our deal and Urner Barry and myself took back full control of Seafoodnews.

In the meantime, the popularity of our news service was growing by leaps and bounds. Suddenly the entire industry was quoting us, feeding us stories, and depending on us every day. At that point, Urner Barry said it was crazy for us not to charge a subscription for this service, as it no longer served a purpose of just bringing traffic to our website.

So we built a subscription model, put our news behind a paywall, and have never looked back. Our business has a steady income, we have grown consistently in revenues year to year, and we consistently moved our news customers on to Urner Barry’s more expensive flagship price reporting service. We have survived and can trace our history back to the original seafood.com. The other companies, with exception of trading produce, either disappeared entirely, or were bought or merged into seafood wholesale operations.

We have one competitor (a Norwegian company) who still employs an editor who worked for one of the early trading sites, but that is about it.

Mike: The site has a plethora of seafood news. How are you able to source this, keep it current, and attract new subscribers?

John:  Our secret is that we are writing for the seafood industry, from within the seafood industry. I myself had a career in seafood that took me all over North America and Canada prior to founding Seafood.com. We have a network of correspondents who also have other jobs within the seafood industry, mostly in trade associations or research, not actively buying and selling. And we have our partnership with Urner Barry, who has a powerhouse news gathering group for meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood, and now has a presence in Europe through its parent company Agribriefing, based in the UK. Urner Barry has wire service agreements that allow us to supplement our original stories with a broad range of seafood related stories from around the globe. So we have become a daily one-stop source for all the news relevant to seafood buyers producers, brokers, traders, importers and exporters, not just in the US, but in all the major seafood producing areas of the world.

Mike: Has either name helped you in search engine rankings and/or reduced your marketing costs? How has it been beneficial to the business?

John:  For many years we were the top ranked hit on google for ‘seafood’. We found that helpful, but not critical to our subscriber growth, as our actual target subscriber audience is quite small. We are a specialized industry, and we are not consumer focused. Seafood.com helped drive search traffic, but it did not generate subscriptions for us. That is why we felt we could transition from seafood.com to seafoodnews.com.

Now we are the first ranked result on google for seafood news. Also our stories come up highly ranked in any searches for individual items like salmon news, crab news etc.

We like the seafoodnews name because it directly describes what we do. In my view, the seafood.com domain could have a higher value as a consumer facing domain, or in a branding campaign. For example, a global seafood company that wanted to tie together its operations in Europe, China, and North America, could use seafood.com as part of such a strategy.

We have had discussions with international seafood marketers regarding the domain, but none of them fit us well enough to end in a domain sale.

Mike: What would you tell a business owner or entrepreneur that is looking to purchase a domain name to launch a business on?

John:  Why buy a domain name? If you are a broker, it is simply a gamble you may be able to sell the domain for a higher price than you paid. For us with seafood.com, we are interested in selling directly to the party who will use the domain.

I think the most important thing in buying a high level domain like seafood.com is to have a marketing and branding strategy that is commensurate with the domain name. First, a high level domain name like this is suitable for a global marketing strategy, as the .com signature transcends international boundaries.

Second, a domain like this may be highly valued for consumer facing businesses, because it is easy to remember and search on.

With current ubiquity of search the business domain can be practically anything, and if enough is spent on advertising, a search will bring the correct result: the company comes up first for those looking for it, or who may be potential customers if exposed to it.

But a high value domain like Seafood.com can short cut this process, so instead of having a customer search for seafood, they would search on seafood.com and go right to the correct website.

So a high level domain can actually make advertising money much more effective, because the website address is so easy to use and remember.

Should a business be launched on a domain? I don’t have an answer to that. In my view, an existing business can get a boost through using a domain like this as part of their marketing strategy. To create a business from scratch based on a domain like seafood.com would take a lot of expertise in the seafood industry. I think the value is not so much convincing consumers to buy online, as it is in enhancing their relationship with a particular brand or product that already has multiple presences, both online, in stores, and in restaurants.

The other issue, for a business person looking at a domain name, is what customers he or she wants to engage. Seafood is a very contentious, emotional and fraught subject for people. Some like it. Some hate it. Some care where their fish is caught, whether it is sustainable, and whether it was guaranteed to be free from slave labor. Others have no interest in eating fish at all. So a domain strategy has to ask the question who am I aiming at with this domain? Will the domain help segregate my customers into those who will interact with me, and those who won’t. I think a specialized name like seafood.com can help segregate these opportunities, but to take advantage, a buyer must know what they want.

Mike: If you could turn back the clock, is there.anything you would have done differently?

My god, who wouldn’t want to turn the clock back to 1994 to do something differently? I am very happy with our business trajectory, as it has served my own skills and interests very well. But of course, with hindsight I could have bought a plethora of major domain names, and parceled them out for sale as the internet got more popular.

But I also could have invested in Apple, or any of the other myriad tech opportunities that were there that year and became much bigger in the future.

So, maybe I would have stayed longer in San Jose, and got to know the tech industry a little better. But on the whole, I would not wish to turn the clock back. Our success and survival as a business has always been based on our honesty, trust of our customers, and commitment to our industry. To me those are timeless qualities that would work in any age, not just the dot.com boom.

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Domain Name Investing

Starting up with Dot io

I recently came across an article I thought was interesting.  I’m a bit of a productivity enthusiest and I enjoy hearing how others manage multiple projects.  That’s where I was first introduced to Stuart Brent.  Talk about managing multiple projects, Stuart is a serial founder, whose projects include Vacord Screen Printing, userinput.io, startupresources.io and startupaffiliate.io.  I had a chance to ask him a few questions and here’s what he had to say.

Mike: You founded a successful printing company back in 2006. Since then, you have dabbled in many things and started some additional projects such as stratupresources.io and user input.io. What interested you about the online aspect of business?

Stuart: Well, I’ve been a geek for a long time. In middle school I liked QuickBASIC programming and learned HTML. In college, I studied Information Science. So it’s old hat to me, being online.

I started the t-shirt printing business in 2006, just out of my basement. It was a hobby that I monetized and decided to pursue full time. I didn’t know marketing then, but I had been interested in owning my own business for a long time. I already liked making websites, and knew I needed one for the business, so I built a site. A friend of mine was doing SEO for a living, which I hadn’t really heard of, but I traded him beer to teach me the basics, and I ranked for some terms. Honestly, marketing online and having a slim operation let my business survive the great recession around 2008, which killed a lot of print shops.

My interest in SEO lead me to getting more domains. This was back in the easy days before the infamous Penguin/Panda Google update that killed the power of Exact Match Domains. I had my main domain for the screen printing site, vacord.com, but I also bought waterbasedscreenprinting.com and dischargescreenprinting.com, since those were types of inks that I specialized in, as well as customamericanapparel.net to focus on printing on American Apparel shirts, which is more profitable.

Penguin/Panda made those side domains very pointless very fast once the update took effect. One year, customamericanapparel.net brought in $80k worth of screen printing orders, which was great for a side domain. But after that update, it plummeted in the rankings and was worthless. I’ve since let all these other domains expire, and just focus on regular marketing for the screen printing business.

I experimented with dropship businesses too before that Google update, and had a lot of weird exact match domains, including dogstairssteps.com which sold dog stairs, like for small dogs to get on the couch or up onto a tall bed. I’ve bought a ton of domains over the years, including a lot of weird ones to try to take advantage of Exact Match Domains back in the day.

I always wanted more businesses than just the screen printing business, but dropshipping did not work out. Around 2013, I got interested in the startup world, and launched my first startup, which provided reviews of online dating profiles. It was a neat idea, but it failed. I learned a ton during that whole process. It was a better education than college.

I love the online aspect of business because I honestly just love marketing. I think it’s fascinating. And the internet itself is incredible. And businesses just have to have a good online presence to survive and thrive now.

Plus obviously there are the wonderful aspects of online businesses like remote working, and shaping your own career and all that. I shifted myself out of the screen printing production, so now I just work in a nice office by myself, which I like. And I can work from a laptop anywhere, and that’s the dream, right? It gives you a lot of freedom.

Mike: You have seem to take a liking to dot io domain names, as many startups have. What is the attraction to the TLD from your perspective?

Stuart: I think it’s sort of silly, but startups have adopted the .io domain and I just went with the trend. I assume originally they took to it because “IO” sounds like “input/output”, which is techy. It actually means “Indian Ocean”, as .io is a country TLD that was just sold off commercial, like so many countries have done with their TLDs.

So it’s just part of the startup branding to use .io. I’ve found in surveys that people are confused by .io as a domain, and I think it’s better to use a .com if you can, if your service isn’t targeted to startup people. But we all know how hard it is to find a good .com.

I usually look for a .io domain now when I have a new project idea, but I will get the .com also if it is available.

Mike: Tell me about startupresources.io. It’s a great collection of categories and resources to consider for any new business.

Stuart: I loved that project. I’ve actually sold it off now, but I kind of miss running the site. I just had too many projects going, and offered it to someone, to get it off my plate, and to help get rid of some credit card debt!

That site had a pretty simple origin: My memory is lousy. A friend had told me about some Twitter growth tool, and I for the life of me couldn’t remember the name. So I decided to start keeping a list for myself of all the tools I came across with all their weird names, so that I couldn’t forget the cool resources that I heard about.

A lot of my business ideas are born on road trips, and it was while driving to my in-laws that I realized I should make that list into a public site. It was good timing on my part because on Product Hunt, curation sites were getting pretty popular. I got the site to #1 on Product Hunt when I listed it, and got consistent traffic from then on. And then the curation site trend sort of crested, so it’s good I did it when I did.

But anyway, that site is just a lot of categories relevant to startups and online businesses (SEO Tools, domain services, hosting services, feedback tools, etc), with 3 to 7 of the tools I liked listed. And there is a weekly newsletter tool with new tools and blog posts. It’s all still active, and it’s cool to be in the audience rather than running it now. I still submit new tools that I find to the site.

Mike: What is the business model on that site? Is it a lead gen business? Do the businesses pay to be listed? The value of this site is not diminished in anyway by sponsors listings, if that is the case.

Stuart: It had a few revenue channels, but never made a ton of money. It made plenty, and the return on investment was incredible, since all I did was buy a domain and use a template to build a flat site. Building that site made me realize that you can make money with JUST a domain and an idea, compared to having to hire a developer and build a startup. That site made way more than my first actual startup, and with tremendously less investment.

It wasn’t really lead gen, though I did retarget the traffic to market my t-shirt business to the visitors, and also market my website feedback service to them.

Businesses could pay to get listed really quickly instead of waiting a few weeks or months to get on the site. But really, it was affiliate sales. I never put a product up there that I didn’t actually think was a quality tool, but if a service had an affiliate program, I enrolled and used an affiliate link. It was my first foray into the affiliate world, and it’s harder to make money with affiliate stuff than people say it is, but I liked the affiliate world. I learned a ton about it.

I did some sponsorships of the newsletters, but not a ton. I actually ended up selling the whole site to a sponsor, who took it over and has done a great job keeping the spirit of the site the same.

Mike: How difficult is it to maintain a site like this and find sponsors?

Stuart: It was hard to maintain because I’m only a front end developer, not a back end. If I had had an actual database, and could have automated the listings and everything, things would have been so much easier. Or if I had used PUG or something to generate the pages more easily. Since it was a flat site, maintenance was easy, but updating it was annoying. And people submitted tools constantly. Everyone with a Startup is desperate to get attention to it, so I would get a lot of submissions. I’d have to manually add them to the pages, and I had some tricks to make it easier (like using Zapier to write submissions to a Google sheet which also embedded the HTML formatting needed) but it still was a chore. I often only added the expedited submissions.

I never sought out sponsors, they’d find me. When someone submitted a tool, I’d see if they had an affiliate program I could use. I could have done a ton more with the site, but never made it my main focus.

Mike: How about userinput.io? How did this idea come about and has it caught on?

Stuart: In 2013, I found feedbackarmy.com, which is defunct now but let you get on-demand feedback, and I used it to get feedback on my sites and I got really curious how that site worked and where the reviewers came from. So I researched it, and found that he used Mechanical Turk, which is Amazon’s digital workforce that does little odd jobs on the internet, like categorizing, transcription, surveys etc. I was totally fascinated by it, and wanted to use that workforce to build a service.

At first, I thought I could use those workers to do resume reviews, but that didn’t really make sense. Then I realized they could give feedback on dating profiles. Like if a guy has an OkCupid profile, he could submit his profile and get 5 women to tell him what they like and dislike about it, if he seems creepy in any way, how he could improve it, what pictures to get rid of or highlight, etc etc. I built a service around that (side note, I met my wife on OkCupid after using my service on my own profiles!)

But the dating feedback startup was really just a super difficult model to pursue (you can read more about the issues at igniteyourmatch.com), with a lot of inherent issues and marketing difficulty. So I started thinking, well what if I just make a better version of feedbackarmy.com? So I did.

It’s been a slow slog, and the project has been mostly backburnered during its whole existence, but it was fairly simple to build out, and it gets a lot of orders every month without much effort from me. I’m not currently doing any marketing for it. I’m about to finish a major overhaul of the site, and I’ll start marketing and expand the services. Right now, it lets you get feedback on your website or business idea so you can learn how to improve. I’d like to have mobile app feedback as well as video reviews of websites sometime soon.

I think it has a lot of potential and I plan to focus on it in 2019.

Mike: Do you have any other projects you’re working on or any other domains you have plans to develop?

Stuart: Oh yes. In 2017, I had too many projects going on, and in 2018 I made a “no new projects” rule, and now that 2019 is approaching I joke that I’m going to go crazy with new projects again. But really, I just have old projects sitting that I’d like to pursue.

When I get a new idea and buy a domain, I always build a little waiting page, add an email list to it, and put it on Betalist. That’s a good way to start building a potential audience for when it launches, but also a way to judge interest. Some of these waiting lists get only up to 100 people, but some get to 1,000.

In 2019, I hope to finish out these side projects / domains:
appinput.io – Feedback / beta testing on mobile apps
startupaffiliate.io – My entry back into the affiliate world, a site to find and list startup related affiliate programs
launchready.io – A checklist of what you need to do before, during, and after launching your startup

Also, I built conversionchecklist.org, which was a simple site that listed 40+ things you should do to try to improve the conversion rate on your website, and I also have marketingchecklist.org and retargetingchecklist.org, and I hope to write those in 2019 as well. These checklist sites are nice to get people in the very top of funnel for userinput.io.

Mike: What advice do you have for those of us looking to develop some of the domains in our portfolios? Is it worth the effort?

Stuart: Sure, it’s worth it if you want to do it, and you have a good plan that makes sense. It depends what domains you have already. I’ve learned you can get the best return with a small investment, meaning you won’t make a ton of money, but you can make some money without investing a ton. I invested $20k in the online dating startup, and it failed in the red, but I also made a lot relatively off startupresources.io, and didn’t spend anything on development. So the ROI was great.

Just think about what domains you have, and whether they could/should turn into a real service, an affiliate play, or an informational site that can be lead gen for another project. I’m a big fan now of side projects as a way to market a main project.

And don’t be scared to let domains expire or sell them off if you’re never going to really do anything with them! I’ve let so many go over the years.

But my main advice, think about how you can make money with the site without investing a ton in it, so that you can have the best ROI and the least risk. And have fun with business.

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Domain Valuation Tools Are Missing One Critical Thing

I just wrapped up some work and spent a few minutes playing with some domain name generators.  It’s always fun to spend a short amount and see what they come up with.  I recently cancelled my subscription to Estibot which I had for years.  I love the tool but anyone who has bought or sold a domain knows that any valuation tool is really not very accurate.  It can only factor in so many things.  There are an infinite amount of elements to consider.

Regardless, as I was popping available names out of these generator tools faster than I could think of them, I started to miss my Estibot subscription.  It would have been nice to see what sort of appraisal these names would get.  Then I decided to pump them through the GoDaddy appraiser which is still listed as “beta.”   Literally every name but one that I dropped in showed a value of over $1,000.  These are names that I would never pay close to $1,000 for on my happiest day.   This is when I discovered the one thing missing from any domain appraisal tool…  The offer to buy the name you are appraising at the value they are providing.

Think about it.  Lets say there is a solid formula that could really tell you what any domain was worth.  Wouldn’t be in the interest of the appraiser to make an offer on the name?  If I enter a domain and the tool thinks it’s worth $1,000 then why not offer to buy it from me at $750, or whatever number you want to set and still leave room for your own profitability.  You’ll never see that from an automated tool because it just can’t be done.  The companies backing the tools don’t trust them enough because the tools can’t determine if a domain can be sold.  It can have all the formulaic qualities to put a dollar value next to it, but it just can’t tell you if the domain is good or not.

Here are a few of the available names generated and the values GoDaddy tossed at me.

Actually, this first one is not a bad name for a gun holster site.  

I Googled this and there is actually a magic trick called “Fire Wallet” or “Flame Wallet”.

I could see some use for this one if you spend some time in the water, I guess?

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?

You never know when it comes to diets.  There is a active site at thedietseed.com.

Not sure what anyone would do with this one.

Enjoy your favorite estimator / appraisal / valuation tool but just remember it’s for entertainment value only.  If you do come across a tool that will buy the names you are feeding into it, let me know.  I could play that game all day.

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domain name images

Image Resources for Domaining

I’m one of those “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  I’ve got so many different projects going on in different areas all at the same time.  Over the past few. years, I’ve developed a habit involving a lethal dose of coffee and a couple of apps just to keep my head screwed on.  I’m sure I would be better off dropping the number of things I have going on and laser focusing on just a couple… but that’s boring. I’d much rather run around like my hair is on fire in an urgent burst of heroics to get everything done on time and with quality.  It makes me sleep sound at night.

That said, I have come across several tips, tricks, tools, and websites that have helped me to pull it all together and cross the finish line every time.  There are too many to list in a single post so I’m going to focus on just a couple.  Theses are specific to images.

I often develop simple pages for my domains.  But in this case I was actually just working on a website development project for a client and was performing some QA review when I stopped to write this post.  I just used these two tools that I have come to take for granted but they ultimately save me a ton of time.  I decided to take a quick break and share them with you here.

Free Images

The first is pixabay.com which always reminds me of the pirate bay when I type the url.  Is that intentional?  Don’t know.  Don’t really care.  Pixabay.com is, as defined by the site itself as, “… a vibrant community of creatives, sharing copyright free images and videos. All contents are released under Creative Commons CC0, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist – even for commercial purposes.”

Yes, free royalty-free images. The best part about it is that they don’t suck.  I almost always find an image of high quality that fits the need I have at the moment.  In this case, I am testing the backend CMS of a website and I want to ensure images upload and display properly.  Because the customer will see these images, I want them to be decent in case they actually want to use them on the site.  I also want them to be free because I don’t want to invest in stock images that are not included in our agreement.

There are dozens of free image sites that I have used in the past but none of them compare to pixabay.com.  The photography and quality are almost on par with the high end stock image sites.  Almost.   I’ve used some of the other free sites in the past and struggled to find something I was looking for.  In one case, I was contacted by an organization saying I was using one of the images without permission.  Uh, I downloaded it from this “free” site.

Placeholder Images

Sometimes I don’t really give a crap about what the image looks like, it’s more important to get an image with the proper dimensions.  Sure, I could pretty quickly spit something out of Photoshop in the size I need, upload it, then link to it in the site to see what it looks like.  But if it’s not the right size, then I have to change the size in Photoshop and repeat the process.  Depending on how many pages and images I’m dealing with, this could take some time.

Instead, wouldn’t just be easier to type a dummy link with an image size?  Why, yes Mike, that would be much easier.  Thankfully, the sources behind placeholder.com agree and have made it so.  You can quickly create an image placeholder by typing a simple url in your html.  Here’s an example.  By typing the following:

<a href=”https://placeholder.com”><img src=”http://via.placeholder.com/350×150″></a>

you’ll insert this image placeholder on your page:

There are many free services like this, such as dummyimage.com, but I prefer placeholder.com just because it’s easy for me to remember, which makes it more efficient in my mind.  There are a couple additional features and options, but this is the primary purpose of the tool and it does it’s job.

I think you’ll get a great deal of use out of these tools if you haven’t been using them already.  If you have any tools you’d like to share, post a comment and let us all know.

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domain names

That’s one ugly domain

Daniel Redman has been a marketing professional for more than 13 years. In 2006 Daniel co-founded the eVisibility media department, quickly building it up to a million dollar revenue channel. As one of the early and continuing pioneers of Emerging Media Marketing, Daniel has managed campaigns for several flagship clients and been a source of innovation.  In his spare time, he noticed some online buzz around ugly sweaters which led to the purchase of BuyUglySweaters.com which now forwards to UglySweaters.com.

Mike: Dan, what’s the attraction, especially around the holidays, to people and ugly sweaters?

Dan: Deep down, we all just want to be loved, Mike. We want to feel apart of a community and like we belong. With a strong sense of irony in fashion, trendsetters arrived at Ugly Sweaters about ten years ago and now this thing has gone totally mainstream. It’s a recipe of nostalgia, anarchy, and humor that make it a necessity for people to have at least one ‘show stopping’ sweater in their arsenal.

Mike: I see today that BuyUglySweaters.com forwards to UglySweaters.com. Did you find that the shorter name draws more traffic? Can you share your traffic numbers?

Dan: Not necessarily more traffic overall with the shorter domain, but 1000% more direct traffic. I believe I have the most recognizable domain in the niche. Because I was one of the only folks around doing this crazy thing in 09, I was able to rank organically very easily (with BuyUglySweaters as the primary) and tipped 3mil pageviews in my first year. As a number of competitors have moved in since, with deep pockets, it’s much leaner these days.

Mike: Tell me about your initial purchase of these names. Were you the first to register or did you purchase the names on the aftermarket? If so, can you tell us about the process? The price?

Dan: I started with BuyUglySweaters in 09 from GoDaddy after noticing that a very fashion forward Facebook friend was talking about an Ugly Sweater party with her cool friend, then later researched and found that search volume was steadily upticking. I then purchased UglySweaters from a broker a few years later that reached out to me. I was surprised that it just sort of fell in my lap that way. I started with ‘BuyUgly…’ because I assumed that it would hold more purchase intent for visitors. This is the type of niche where buying intent is sometimes hard to find. Crafty folks might just be hunting around for ideas or examples of sweaters. The UglySweaters domain typically gets a few offers for purchase every year as it’s somewhat of a rarity to have the exact match for such a large search set.

Mike: Do you have other domain names?

Dan: Of course, I’m a recovering domain hoarder. At one time I had over 70 domains in my portfolio when I was attempting to build an advertising network. I’ve paired it down to about 15 now. Some are pretty interesting, others will likely never see the light of day, like ZikaVirusDating.com <—what was I thinking?

ugly domain

Mike: It looks like you are using Shopify as you platform. How did you decided on that and are you happy with your decision? What are a few of the pros and cons?

Dan: I have enjoyed my experience with Shopify thus far, however it is pretty darn expensive. Since I’m a one man show for most things, It’s a must though. I have grown my business using their apps and saved a plethora of time not having to dig into code or hire out work. I’ve always used ecomm through WordPress and a free shopping cart back in the day. WP took too much time for me and the Free cart had some security issues that ended up costing me.

Mike: Have you found the desire for ugly sweaters has increased or decreased since you began selling?

Dan: Increased dramatically! It now has bonafied staying power. Target and Urban Outfitters carry their own lines of Ugly Sweaters and there are some ecommerce brands doing millions in revenue. It’s crazy to see how far it’s come. When I first started doing this I was interviewed by Entrepreneur online and I sort of cast this category off entirely as a fad. I’ve been proven wrong.

Mike: How important is social media to your site?

Dan: It’s important, but I can’t claim to have totally maximized it. We have a small but loyal following on both Twitter and Facebook, of which I primarily use as backstops for paid ads. All in all we know that direct traffic is going to be our bread and butter and taking up real estate in the SERPs.

Mike: What has been the hardest or most unexpected hurdle to running an online business?

Dan: Dealing with a mass influx of competition. Affiliates, money backed businesses that are just chasing the SEMrush reports have all taken sizable chunks out of our business. I never expected UglySweaters to be a thing beyond a year or two, so I didn’t build a fortress like I could have.

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Erik Bergman Great.com

What’s Happening with the $900,000 Great.com

“I am really, really good at making money…” is the opening line of Erik Bergman’s video on Great.com. The video from the 30-year-old Swedish entrepreneur tells of how he made $15 Million in one day on his 28th birthday. While the feeling was great, it didn’t last long. He soon asked, “Is there anything more?” The landing page states that he paid $900,000 for his name Great.com, which is the sales price listed on namebio.com for confirmation. I recall first reading about this sale on TheDomains.com back in January.

A friend told him about a charity project in Western Africa to teach kids about computers. As Erik tells the story of the school, there is a real sense of passion for these kids and their well being. He began to think about how he could contribute. He decided that he should do what he does well… make money. And give that money away. Great.com will be all about making money and giving it away.

Mike: Erik, lets back things up and start with your business that you sold on your 28th birthday. What was that business and how did you manage to build it into a $15 million-dollar company?

Erik: Sure, the company is called Catena and it’s a very big affiliate company working in several different verticals, most is focused on SEO and PPC but there is also a lot of Facebook, email and media buying involved.

Everything started out more like a playful hobby than a big fancy business plan. It was me and my childhood friend Emil in his parents’ basement. We started a small web agency and helped local companies with their websites. This never took off though and we were struggling to stay in business. Instead we started building affiliate websites about online bingo and pretty soon this became our main business.

This was back in 2008 and until 2012 it was more or less just me and Emil. We were doing everything ourselves and it was just as much focus on playing around and testing new things as it was about building a company. We became fairly successful in all kinds of niches and were selling everything from insurances to business cards, hotel nights to fashion, main one was still bingo though.

In 2012 we restructured everything and sold half of the business to an investment company. They came in with a lot of knowledge of how to build a proper organization, how to scale and how to set bigger goals. 2013 became the year when we hired like crazy, took on far too much costs and almost went bankrupt. The results I was planning for didn’t show and I was stressed out of my life.

Late 2013 things finally turned around and 2014-2015 became really good years for us. We went from 12 employees in 2013 to 80 I 2015 and in February 2016 we went to the stock market. All in all, the company was then valued at about $200 million.

Mike: Are you working now or is Great.com your 100% committed passion?

Erik: I stopped working in Catena 31st December 2017 so now Great.com is going to be my 100% passion. I’m not going all in from day 1 though. The journey with Catena took a lot of my energy so I want to make sure I am in really good shape both physically and mentally before I go all in again. I was very close to being burned out during the most hectic years and I don’t want to make that mistake again.

Mike: What is your vision for Great.com? Can others get involved?

Erik: The vision with Great is to build a for-profit company that gives everything away. I want to create a workplace for everyone to use their best skills and till add a purpose to it. A designer working in a regular company is just making designs, a designer working in a company that gives away all profits away, is making designs AND saving lives. I want to create something where tech people can utilize their best skills, still earn money as if they were working in a regular company AND do something truly meaningful.

There will be plenty of room for others to get involved. At this stage the best thing is to do exactly what you are doing now Mike, get the story out. Down the line there will be tons of other options so keep an eye on Great.com to see what shows up. There will be more info pretty soon and I’m setting up an email list where people can follow the updates.

Mike: Have you ever purchased a premium domain name before? Did you know what to expect?

Erik: I’ve bought several high value domains but nothing close to this. I’ve been involved in several different deals between $10-40 000. This was actually very similar to that regarding how the negotiations etc. were done. However, my heartbeat was drastically different!

Negotiations in general are the same regardless what is being bought and it’s the same emotions that are being triggered. I remember the first important site I bought back in 2011. It was for roughly $40 000 and I was just as emotionally involved in that one as I was in the $200 million IPO.

Mike: You spent $900,000 on this name. Why not just donate that money and call it a day?

Erik: It’s a very valid question. Probably the first one I would ask as well.

I want to create something that’s much, much bigger than a $900 000 donation can be. I am aiming for billions.

When that is my goal the name will be super important, and a $900 000 investment can be worth a lot more than that down the line. Anyone who is involved with domains know how big difference they can make. This is not just a domain, this is a brand, this is something that shows everyone that I’m taking this very seriously.

Mike: Tell me what it’s like to shop and purchase a domain of this caliber. Can you walk us through how you selected this name and the purchase process that followed?

Erik: As I mentioned above, it’s fairly similar to buying any other domain. It’s just a few more zeros on the transaction.

I really wanted a name that everyone had positive connotations to. That would work for any industry and for anything. That would be good for both a charity and for a for-profit company. For me “Great” is a word that meets all those criterions and at the same time it’s easy to spell, easy to remember and everyone even if they don’t have English as their native language knows what it means.

The negotiations started with an email before I even knew about the auction. I put in the big far lower than I thought they would accept. They went far higher than I would pay and then we took it from there. Just as if it was a $1000 domain. We didn’t manage to find a deal so when I found out about the auction I felt like this was my time!
Mike: Are you concerned at all that running a site for charity may be different than running a business?

Erik: No, not at all. If we would be in need of donations I would be worried but now we won’t be. Instead I’m very excited about being able to work for a purpose myself but also to be able and provide this for anyone else who will get involved. I think it will be a lot easier to find great people when they feel that they can be a part of something big!

Mike: Your opening line in the video is a bold one. I am really, really good at making money. In your opinion , is that a skill that you either have or don’t have or is it a skill that can be learned?

Erik: Yes, it’s a bold one. I want to be a charity like nothing else so then it will be important to stand out.

When it comes to making money, this is definitely something that can be learned. Like everything else. I would however start with something unconventional – happiness. Start by learning about emotions and what it takes to be positive. Personal development guru Tony Robbins talk a lot about these things. I believe that it’s a lot easier to make money if you have a positive view on people and on life than if you don’t. If you manage to be positive you might care a lot less about the money as well but still have a great life.

I spend a lot of my time practicing gratitude and positive vibes. I think that’s one of my biggest strengths – and it has definitely helped me a lot in business!

Mike: That sounds great! If the readers want to find out more about you and the project, what can they do?

Right now, there isn’t much info on Great.com but there will be pretty soon. In the meantime, they can visit my personal site ErikBergman.se. It will give a much better image of who I and what my views are on life. It will paint a better picture of my vision and ambition with Great as well.

Thank you very much for having me Mike!

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There’s a New Podcast in Town

A couple of months back, I was out with two of my old friends.  While tipping back a few beers and munching on the delicious bar food, we got into the topic of old TV shows.  You, know, old.  Like from the 70s and 80s.  One friend, who also happens to be named Mike, half-joking, mentioned on how the conversation we were having would be an interesting podcast.  As the conversation deepened and the beers flowed, we committed to making a podcast about these old shows just for fun.   My other friend, let’s call him “Scott”…   well, that actually is his name, had no idea what a podcast is and offered to do some dance moves in the background.  We played along.

Unlike most ideas, we didn’t let this one drop.  While it’s not a business venture and we’re not expecting to profit from it, it was a great reason to stay connected an get together more frequently.   We threw together a website, gave ourselves a crash course on podcasting, and recorded and released our first episode on iTunes today.  Making that first episode was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.  Looking forward to the rest of them.

While it’s not a domaining related podcast, I invite you to check it out “I Used to Watch This?” on iTunes or where ever you happen to get your podcasts.  Give us a rating if you like it and stay tuned for the next episode where we talk about one of my favorite childhood shows.  I’m not the youngest domainer on the block so some of these may be hidden treasures younger people should check out to see how good/bad TV used to be.

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Domain Name Registration

VPN.com – Just like that!

Michael Gargiulo is a simple visionary. He loves to dream and get seriously bored with people who do not know how. He enjoys building websites and driving quality traffic to them. He studied finance and risk management but his competitive advantage over others is in search engine optimization and conversion rate optimization.

Sully:  You are the founder and CEO of VPN.com.  Tell me about the company and what you do.  Is it a VPN comparison site?

Michael: Thanks for the opportunity Sully to share some ideas with your readers. And yes, I am the founder of VPN.com where we provide information on more than 900 different VPN providers to help you find the right VPN for your needs and budget. We have spent thousands of hours researching the industry and nearly every provider inside of it to make it easy for potential customers to quickly find the information they are looking for before buying and downloading.

Sully:  In 2017 you acquired VPN.com.  I’m going to take a wild guess that purchasing a 3 letter category killer name wasn’t a cheap affair.  Can you tell me about how you came across the opportunity? Are you willing to share the purchase price?

Michael: This was probably the toughest part of our journey thus far. I had been pursuing the previous owner for more than four years before a deal was struck. Most of the time, I didn’t get replies to my emails or phone calls so it wasn’t like a negotiation was made during that time either. Three years into my chase, I brought in a broker to help with the acquisition and after working with him for nine months we were finally able to put a deal together. I highly recommend a broker for large transactions like this as we nearly lost the opportunity to someone else several times there at the end.

And unfortunately, I am under an NDA through July of 2018 on the exact price but I can say we will be in the top 10 domain purchases of 2017 according to DN Journal’s 2017 Year-to-Date Top 100 Sales Chart.

Sully:  Why a VPN comparison site.  Why not offer your own VPN service with a name like VPN.com?

Michael: We looked at several models for our site. Of course, building and selling our own VPN was one of them. In this space, you need $2-3 million to develop a competitive suite of products. We were not interested in making that investment to become just another VPN provider. Instead we wanted to maximize the potential of our domain name and we let this guide us to the version of the site you see now. Just like Cars.com, Hotels.com, and Apartments.com, none of these multi-billion dollar corporations own the products they provide information offer.

I believe if we execute on our current strategy over the next 18 months, we can bring 20 million people to the site per month and that type of volume will continue to attract many opportunities.

Sully:  This isn’t your first crack at business and not your first time leveraging a premium keyword domain name.  Tell me about ProxyServer.com and the business there.

Michael: I have been in the proxy and VPN space for nearly a decade now and it started in high school when I was trying to unblock different websites behind the school firewall. Its interesting to reflect back on those days. Most grand visions, like ours, take years to prune and even longer to gather the proper resources for. I am lucky to have ProxyServer.com and lessons it taught us. Without it, VPN would have never happened.

ProxyServer.com was the precursor to VPN.com. While we were trying to acquire the VPN.com domain I actually had most of the technology we would attempt to initially sell on VPN.com already set up and being sold on ProxyServer.com. I knew if we acquired VPN, we could easily migrate it over or pivot to another model.

Sully:  How important have you found the quality of your domain name to be in relation to the success of your business?

Michael: The domain name was the best investment the company will ever make. VPN providers, teammates, new hires, and even competitors take us seriously and for no other reason than our name is VPN.com. I have had many great conversations with CEOs and executives of some of the largest VPN companies on earth because our name is VPN.com.

I still don’t think we fully understand the value of owning the name. Moving forward, I think the domain will continue creating inbound opportunities for us especially as we move on to page one in Google for “VPN.” No matter if you are a provider, competitor, end user or investor, people will always respect a name like ours.

In addition, we receive dozens of offers on a monthly basis to buy or invest in the project along with some incredible partnership opportunities from various VPN providers. This tells me we are on the right track and that people are watching.

Sully:  You seem like you’re still a young guy, but while in college you bought and sold more than $2 million dollars of unwanted gift cards. How did you do this?

Michael: The gift card hustle was a critical period of my life. Primarily through Craigslist and eBay, I was able to purchase cards at a discount and resell them to larger buyers and make my cut on the spread. Selling the cards was much easier than finding people you could trust and buy from. Thankfully, I developed several relationships with contractors and builders who were constantly turning over cards and needed a quick way to cash them out.

Most of the profits I generated from gift cards I invested into my first websites. I knew gift cards would not last forever and wanted to move to a form of income that was a bit more hands off. Looking back on it, it was small decisions like this that moved me in the direction of what became VPN.

Sully:  You also built and grew 3 websites to 3,000,000+ monthly visitors (making $2-3k per day).  Can you give up some of your secrets? What’s the story behind these sites?

Michael: My biggest secret is buying a great name. The location you offer your products matters even more online. I was fortunate to make some solid domain acquisitions early on in my career that offered me great insight into search engine optimization. I grew all of my sites organically through search engine traffic and I have always believed if I couple a great name with a great experience there was absolutely no way I could lose with my visitors and no way I could lose with search engines like Google. Basically, this is the same formula I used for VPN.com and I expect to see similar results with it over the next 18 months.

Thank you for this opportunity Sully and everyone reading. Check out our latest VPN article on Yahoo targeted at Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, and Netflix VPNs. We plan to deliver more accountability to brands who don’t take the privacy of their users seriously. Stay tuned!

And feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

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generic domain name

Vaporize the dot com

Is a family run business and was started to help spread the word on vaporization and show the world that there is a better way to get the benefits from plants and essential oils.  Damon Inlow is the owner of Vaporizers.ca and took some time to discuss with me.

Mike:  Damon, you have a category-defining keyword domain for your website.  Did you register this domain through the normal process or did you purchase the name on the aftermarket?  Tell us about the process.

Damon:  Back in 2005, there was only a handful of American Vaporizer dealers, and we were the only Canadian vaporizer dealer. Not many people even knew about the concept of using herbs with vaporizers and very few people sold them. One big advantage of being the first vaporizer dealer in Canada is that we did have our pick of .ca domains. We decided to go with vaporizers.ca through the normal registration process.

Mike:  The tld of your domain is dot ca, which represents Canada.  How well have you found this tld to work for you as compared to a dot com name?

Damon:  With our product, we wanted to focus on the Canadian market. The .ca has been good for that, but it certainly limits your United States rankings and search exposure. If your goal is North America, you definitely want a .com as well as a .ca. For a focus on the Canadian market only, the .ca domains are a great choice.

Mike:  I don’t smoke or vape.  The site mentions “a much safer and healthier alternative to smoking.”  Is that a scientific fact or merely a guess based on limited information available?

Damon:  Smoking is combustion; combustion produces tars and other toxins. If you remove the smoke part and vaporize, you then only get the essence of the herb. Some herbs, like tobacco, are still bad news, but most herbs are safe when vaporized. There are many studies on vaporization, mostly medical, that are easy enough to find. Israel has done a lot of those studies.

Mike:  I’m not familiar with the laws regarding the devices.  Are there laws in Canada and the US regulating the sale?  Does that complicate things for you?

Damon:  Vaporizers can be used with hundreds of legal herbs so there are no laws against them. The American Government tried to cause problems over a decade ago, but they lost in court. The court clearly saw how many legal herbs you can vaporize and its medical uses. We have dealt with many non-legal complications like PayPal issues and advertising restrictions.

Mike:  Do you do any advertising outside of organic search engine results?  Do you use Google AdWords or any other paid advertising results?  If so, what has been your experience?

Damon:  We use organic searches as well as some limited advertising. AdWords blocked Vaporizers many years ago as well as Facebook. It was a very unpleasant experience at first as they were very ignorant of the benefits of vaporizing and the policies were not clear at all.

Mike:  What has been the biggest challenge running an online business?  How have you navigated this?

Damon:  Getting the page setup and getting those initial sales is tough for sure but we find the biggest challenges are the logistics. Not only getting the inventory to us but shipping across the country. Takes a lot of work and shipping is always a loss money wise. Every year rates go up and we lose more money on shipping. You can go dropship, but it’s hard to find a reliable one you can trust. Customer satisfaction is key and if your dropshipper fails, you fail.

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Shocking Interview

Kelly Bedrich is the Co-founder of ElectricityPlans.com and President of Cypress Capital Ventures. He is an IT entrepreneur focused on acquiring, marketing, and improving e-commerce sites. His current emphasis is on taking ideas from startup to maturity with sustainable business benefits.

Kelly is skilled at building and executing strategic initiatives by leading global product teams and guiding technical teams to bring results-oriented businesses to life. He is driven to build and develop efficient operational sites that maximize sales and marketing pipelines through low cost of customer acquisition and high retention.

Mike:  Kelly, what got you interested in comparing utility plans?

Kelly:  Good question. My co-founder and I both live in Texas, which has had an active retail energy deregulation market since around 2002. Like most Texans, we would have to choose our electricity provider and sign a new contract every year or so. To do that, we would usually visit the comparison site operated by the Texas Public Utility Commission called Power To Choose. The last few times we did this, we became increasingly confused and frustrated by their site and knew there had to be a better way. We wanted to answer some basic questions like:

  • What would be the $ amount of my utility bill if I chose a specific plan?
  • Why does Texas have 3 electricity rates on each plan?
  • What’s the catch with the teaser rates that appeared to be too good to be true?

The PUC site and other comparison sites in the market weren’t doing these things, so we decided to start our own. We focus on rate transparency and quality content that explains some of the inner workings of the retail electricity industry so that customers can make informed choices and save money in the process.

Mike:  Were you the first to register  ElectricityPlans.com and NaturalGasPlans.com  or were these domains you purchased on the aftermarket?

Kelly:  We acquired ElectricityPlans.com in late 2015 from a broker. However, we were able to purchase the .net version as well as both NaturalGasPlans.com and .net in 2016 as new domains. We launched ElectricityPlans.com in early 2017.

Mike:  Explain your business model.  How do the sites generate revenue?  Do you get a cut if someone switches providers?

Kelly: That’s correct. Like most comparison sites we are basically a matchmaker between buyers and sellers. Our focus is for the buyers (electricity shoppers) to find the best possible rate for their needs. To make this happen, we get paid a small commission from our retail electricity partners if a customer signs up for one of their plans. We do this both through affiliate links and through direct APIs with the electricity providers. We also have a free electricity shopping service for Texas customers where we compare a customer’s usage to our database and select the right plan for them.

Mike:  How well do your sites rank in Google?  ElectricityPlans.com comes up on the first page when I search for “Electricity Plans” (without quotes).  Did you have to put any extra effort into that ranking?

Kelly:  Since our industry is highly competitive on specific keywords, we don’t focus much on how our overall site ranks in Google or Bing. However, we religiously watch how certain keywords rank for us. Our customers typically don’t search for ‘electricity plans’ but instead search for keywords that vary by different states. We currently have 382 keywords (including variants) that appear in the top 10 slots on Google. We also have similar numbers on Bing. We’ve accumulated these results through classic SEO techniques like content focus and site authority.

There’s definitely extra effort over and above simply acquiring and launching an EMD (Exact Match Domain) site. There’s really no such thing as an EMD bonus anymore from Google. In late 2012, Google cracked down on ranking sites simply based on their domains. In fact, they began to penalize EMDs with poor quality sites according to Search Engine Land (source: https://searchengineland.com/ library/google/emd-update ).

In our experience, building out an EMD site really boils down to basic SEO – have a good quality user experience (including mobile), write good content, and focus on building backlinks. The benefit that you have from including an informative keyword in your domain is that you immediately set the user’s expectation for what they will get. If you site is done well, this will help your site’s overall authority and help in areas like bounce rates and backlinks. In our case it also helps potential partners find us.

Mike:   Have you received any unsolicited offers on the names?  Anything worth considering?

Kelly:  Yes, occasionally, but since we are an active revenue site I think buyers tend to shy away from making offers on just the names. There is an active market for domains in the energy vertical and we do watch the market for domains with our keywords. We have purchased several related keyword domains more as a defensive move than anything else.

Mike:  Do you feel it’s possible for anyone to make a living online with a good domain name?

Kelly:   Unfortunately, no. It takes a combination of several factors to make a living doing this in my opinion.

First, it isn’t really about the domain. It’s more about the product/service, content, and experience that you give to site visitors. Simply launching a site with a few keywords in the domain won’t get you very far. Think through your own digital shopping experiences and consider your recent positive experiences. This includes everything from things like product quality and customer service to the site interface itself. Do these things well.

Second, your product/service has to be marketed. If simply launching your site with a keyword or two in the domain is your marketing plan, you’ll likely be waiting a while (if any sales come through at all). By the way, marketing doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. There’s a lot of room for creativity here.

Next, focus on your competitive advantage if your site is entering a competitive market. Do your due diligence on competitors and see what you like or don’t like about their products.

Finally, there’s the personal and financial aspect of owning a site. Do you have the financial backing to not only launch a site but scale it up to profitability? Do you have the patience to write content and duke it out in the battle for keywords? Have you determined what makes you uniquely qualified to fill a specific need? All of these factors come into play when deciding if you can head down the entrepreneurial path and make a living online.
Mike:  I noticed you have only a couple of states associated with the gas and electric sites.  Why is that?   Any plans on expanding?

Kelly:  Yes, definitely. We are currently in Texas, Ohio, and Connecticut with our electricity site and Ohio and Michigan with our natural gas site. We are definitely planning on expanding to other deregulated markets (there are 14 total for electricity and 20 for gas). We will soon go through the licensing and certification process in the other deregulated markets and enter them in an orderly manner through the end of 2018.

In addition, many countries have varying degrees of energy choice for consumers. Our long term plan is to enter these markets as well.

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geo domain

InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com – Geo domaining lives on

Tina Willis graduated 2nd in her class from Florida State University College of Law.  She has worked as a big firm defense attorney and as a law professor, not to mention the many awards under her belt.  She now focuses her time as a personal injury attorney.  She is using InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com as her domain to her business site and likes to refer to herself as an Orlando car & truck accident attorney.

Mike:  What attracted you to practice law from the start?

Tina:  My grandparents raised me and we had very little money or connections.  As I became a young adult, who thankfully was able to attend college, I became more aware of the societal and economic pressures that had made life difficult for my grandparents.  So I suppose you could say that I wanted to help those who were less fortunate when they needed an advocate. That was because I knew how it felt to need help, and not be able to find anyone who really cared.  That is one big reason that I love my current practice area, which allows me to help those who could not otherwise afford to hire a lawyer, instead of helping large corporations.  Plus, I have always loved a good debate!

Mike:  You’re leveraging InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com along with tinawillislaw.com.  Are there any other domains you own?

Tina:  On the advice of a not great SEO agency, when I first started my practice, we purchased over 100 domains, and still own quite a few of those.  These days, we only maintain and regularly update my primary domain (InjuryAttorneyFlorida.com).  We made the decision to focus our efforts online because maintaining more than one website, much less many other websites, was far too challenging.  We also get virtually no traffic or leads from the other domains we own.  So basically we learned the hard way that the advice to purchase many domains was not good.

Also, as a side note, managing multiple domains is so problematic that tinawillislaw.com is not even forwarding properly (to my primary domain).  We purchased that domain name only for email and offline marketing.  But the forwarding has never worked.  Your interview actually reminded me that I need to check with my tech/website support people, to hopefully get that resolved.   But that’s a perfect example of how multiple domains can lead to many unexpected complications.

Mike: I have to ask some questions related to law.  If I were to be injured at work or at a business, what are the first steps I should take?  Is that any different if I were to get injured on someones residential property?

Tina:  Most of the cases that we handle are either auto accidents, such as car, truck, or motorcycle accidents, or premises liability, such as slip and fall, or negligent security cases.

Your question relates more to premises liability.  But many of the steps for an injured victim to take after any accident are the same.

First, they should make sure they get immediate medical treatment.  If their injuries are serious, the best scenario in terms of adding value to their injury case is to be transported by ambulance to the hospital right after their accident.

Second, or simultaneously, they should report the accident, either to the police (in an auto accident), or the business owner (in a premises liability case).   They also should take detailed photos of the accident scene, vehicles involved, property defects in a premises liability case, and any visible signs of their own injuries.

Finally, they absolutely need to call a personal injury & accident lawyer ASAP.  Injured victims have the burden of proving their cases in court.  And that burden is a heavy one.  So we need to quickly gather evidence, which could, and often does, disappears very soon after any accident.  This includes documentary evidence, physical evidence, and witnesses.

Although they have a duty to report the accident to their own insurance company (in auto accident cases), usually within a short period of time, they should call a lawyer first.  The reason is that their own insurance company wants to pay the least amount of money possible, on every claim.  If their insurance company might owe any money under an uninsured motorist (UM) policy, they WILL ask questions, sometimes very innocent-sounding questions, to get information that can significantly reduce case value.  Injured victims have no obligation to communicate with the other party’s insurance company, regardless of what they say.  Either way, injured victims need a lawyer speaking and working for them, very quickly, particularly if they sustained serious injuries.

If someone were injured on residential property, there might be different issues involved, primarily with getting the home owner’s insurance policy.  Lawyers do not have access to homeowner policies.  So we might need the client to get the homeowner’s policy, or we would have to reject case.  This happens in dog bite cases, for example.  One exception would be if the residential property were an apartment complex, and some defect with the apartment caused their injury.  Then we might be able to accept the case, and hold the landlord, management company, or owner responsible.

The bottom line with all injury and accident cases is that the facts can change the outcome.  So there really is no substitute for a consultation, during which we tell our clients what they need to do to get the most money possible in their cases.  We provide free consultations so we encourage potential clients to take advantage of those.

Mike:  How has this descriptive, geographic domain name helped your traffic and what made you decide to try this approach?

Tina:  We believe the domain name has helped our online presence because we tend to rank well for many of our targeted phrases.  But, as you know, the Google algorithm doesn’t send you a message telling you what helped your phone ring.  So we cannot be sure.  That’s just a hunch / gut-feeling.  We purchased this domain name on the advice of an SEO professional and friend.

Mike:  Have you considered other domains with TLDs such as dot law or dot legal as some other attorneys have?

Tina:  I have considered the other TLDs, primarily because I have friends who have successfully used them.  But, after just going through a conversion of my website from http to httpS, there is no way in the world that I would change domain names at this point.  Besides, my personal opinion is that dot com will always be the best.  Plus, the algorithm awards domain age.  So I wouldn’t want to convert an older URL to a brand new domain name, for the sake of possibly better keywords.  Also, many of the exact match domain names have already been purchased, so we would still have to settle for a partial match domain.

Mike:  Would you recommend a geo name for other businesses, such as “orlandodentist.com?”  Why or why not?

Tina:  As I said, I think having geography in the name has been helpful.  But I have no statistics or analytics to support that theory.  I just assume they help, based on what I have been told, and we seem to rank reasonably well.  On the other hand, since the algorithm involves hundreds of factors, there definitely could be other factors that are helping our website rank.  I am not aware of any way to test any one specific factor.  That all being said, if I were starting a new business, with a new website, then I definitely would try to include geo factors.  That creates a problem of finding an available, exact match domain name.  Partial matches aren’t as helpful.  As it turns out, actually, mine is a partial match, because an exact match was not available.  On the other hand, if I had an established domain, then I wouldn’t switch domain names just for the geo component.

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Domain Investor

Find.jobs – Are there advantages to .jobs names? Several

Ettore Fantin is the  Director of Marketing at Find.jobs.The find.jobs team recognized the need to develop an industry-leading solution for job seekers. With 30% of the global workforce actively seeking a job change, they set out to develop a unique solution. To service this need they launched Find.jobs. The flagship .jobs property utilizes ElasticSearch and the Google Job Discovery API to surpass current search mechanisms. This is backed by more than 8 million open positions available to job seekers at any point in time.  The parent company of .jobs and Find.jobs, Employ Media, LLC is the licensed operator of the .jobs TLD on the internet.

Mike: Tell me what differentiates find.jobs from other job sites?

Ettore:  We have identified several opportunities to create a better job search experience for our users.  One of which is providing users a more accurate search experience. Many of the largest job sites use one to one keyword matching for their searches.  The result of this is frequent irrelevant search results, elongating the process for job seekers. Utilizing the Google Cloud Job Discovery API, we are confident in our accuracy being superior to that of other websites. This paired with the extensive .jobs network provides job seekers a targeted and precise job search experience.

Mike:  As the director of marketing, what goes into marketing a site such as find.jobs?  What’s the most challenging aspect of promoting a website?

Ettore:   The most challenging aspect is quickly articulating the message of the question above.  The difference is clear when doing a side by side comparison between job sites, but not as clear on first impression.  My job is not only to get job seekers to our website but to also get them returning to the site as their preferred platform.  We see a high number of return visitors on the site currently, that number will continue to go up as we release new and innovative features!

Mike:  Does the dot jobs tld help with search engine placement for job sites or companies posting jobs?  

Ettore:  In several cases, the .jobs TLD will help with search engine placements.  We’re seeing a lot of large companies notice the same value as we do and using a .jobs domain. Amazon and even Indeed utilize a .jobs domain for their career sites (Amazon.jobs and Indeed.jobs)   These companies hire on such a massive scale that a tweak such as using .jobs as opposed to a subdomain can make a large difference. Companies posting jobs can benefit greatly from the .jobs network. We provide job search sites focused on geography, industry, and position. As we present highly target jobs to job seekers with these sites we also present a highly targeted audience of job seekers to employers. Companies that want to get a job in front of a highly targeted segment of job seekers would be hard-pressed to find a better resource.

Mike:  With Employ Media, LLC being the parent company and the licensed operator of the .jobs TLD, does that put you in a position of competing with those that register .job names?

Ettore:  Mike, the short answer to your question is “yes” but to be clear we compete against other TLD operators particularly, .com, who has had the huge head start.  To create consumer awareness for the .jobs TLD, notably with job seekers, Our strategy as the TLD operator is to invest, own and operate .jobs website properties. These websites serve the many ways employers and job seekers use the Internet for employment purposes. Find.jobs is an Employ Media owned website property. We’ve long believed that for .jobs to be a successful TLD and gain mindshare with users that we have to encourage the competitive landscape to adopt .jobs, not just sit back and hope this happens on its own.

Our methods of domain name allocation with registrars have in fact encouraged various startups in the market to register .jobs domain names to compete. These include landing.jobs, museum.jobs, crypto.jobs, greater.jobs, sweeps.jobs, instaff.jobs, and realtime.jobs to name but a few. In 13 years of operation, .jobs has never increased its wholesale fee to registrars. This decision brings with it certainty and stability to registrants (registrar customers) to develop their .jobs domains into competitive properties. Further, there’s never been a UDRP action filed involving a .jobs domain name since inception.  We know these are important ingredients as the operator of the .jobs TLD to gain trust in the marketplace.

The online recruitment marketplace is both robust and dynamic.  We recognize .jobs to be a natural TLD extension that fits this vertical.   Companies have built very successful website properties in .jobs including hyatt.jobs, att.jobs, nissanmotor.jobs, and psu.jobs.  We are proud of these properties as they are great examples of the .jobs intended use. Annually, hundreds of millions of job seekers engage with .jobs websites from nearly every country in the world By investing into our TLD, and bringing it to market, we have built confidence that others can create competitive .jobs properties.

Mike:  What is your position on the newer TLDs that have been released.  Do you feel that is good for business? Has it impacted registration rates of .jobs in any way?

Ettore:  We’re actually a fan!  The .jobs TLD was applied for in 2003 and granted in 2005 when there were only a couple dozen TLDs.  Now with several hundred TLDs, we are proud to be early adopters and pioneers in the space. We have participated in several other TLD applications since, and are optimistic about the direction which this is moving.

Mike:  How many .jobs domains are currently registered?

Ettore:  There are nearly 50,000 .jobs domains registered.  Given the professional nature of the TLD, there is very little turnover and the TLD was identified as the 2nd safest “neighborhood” on the web by Symantec Blue Coat!

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A couple of guys I’d like to hang out with: Braden Pollock and Nat Cohen

Seriously, how cool would it be to sit down with these two guys and have a beer or dinner and talk about domain names, entrepreneurship, and their experiences. Just an hour with these two guys would be like a full advanced college course in domaining.  I would honestly be taking notes while beer dripped across the pages because, yes, I’m that guy taking notes at a bar on paper – not even on an iPad.

Well, guess what?  We don’t get an hour. You can still have a beer if you want, that’s your call.  But get the most out of the next 15 minutes of your life by watching these two hit on topics such as UDRPs, ICANN and ICA.  Thanks to NamePros for antoher great video.

[scroll-box]Braden: Nat Cohen, welcome to NamesCon.

Nat: Good to be here.

Braden: Happy to have you. You’ve come to all of them, right?

Nat: I missed the first one.

Braden: You missed the first one?

Nat: Yeah.

Braden: I don’t know if we should even do this interview now.

Nat: I’ve just been doing holiday travel and I was like, “Richard, this is a great conference idea but I’m just not coming out.

Braden: You gotta squeeze it in.

Nat: Yep.

Braden: You’ve been coming to domain conferences forever because you’ve been…

Nat: I went to the first T.R.A.F.F.I.C one 2004.

Braden: Tell us about what you do. You have a massive portfolio. You’ve been doing it a long time. Tell us about how you got started and why you got started, your experience in the domain industry, and who the heck you are.

Nat: Okay. Well, I am… Yeah. I’m from DC, grew up in the area, and I got into domains by accident when I was just trying to publish a website and learn about how to register a domain to do it. And then learned about people investing in domains and got curious and looked into what was available, and that’s what I got started on. And I have a… Yeah, have a sort of a generic portfolio since 1997.

Braden: Wow.

Nat: And…

Braden: And that’s really…that was early on, right?

Nat: It was early on but people liked Digimedia and other ones who were there, even earlier, had taken all the good stuff.

Braden: But only by a few years.

Nat: Doesn’t matter if it’s by…you know if it is one second. You miss it by one second, it’s too late.

Braden: Granted. But it’s still early on because only it was, what, mid ’94, ’95? When did it go public?

Nat: That’s when people… That’s when it… Yeah. ’95, ’94, ’95, was like Rick Schwartz and those kind of guys started saying, “This is what we’re gonna do.”

Braden: Because prior to that, you had to be on the inside to get a name.

Nat: I think, yeah. I don’t know much about it, but yeah.

Braden: So, you’re old school.

Nat: Relatively early. And yeah. So, got names through registrations, some drop catching, a lot of purchases along the way, and try to just keep increasing the value of the portfolio and hope, yeah. Hopefully, I’ve done that.

Braden: Did you do much in the Dot-bomb at about 2000, 2001 when a lot of these names were expiring that used to be companies?

Nat: I actually got distracted in trying to do development and that took my focus out for a couple of years, probably right when like Frank and those guys were catching all the good stuff that was dropping.

Braden: Yeah. Frank Schilling really did well that period.

Nat: Then, I’m also involved with the ICA on the board level and have that’s been kind of like the main area of focus for me for a lot of years.

Braden: Yeah. You spend a lot of time.

Nat: Yep.

Braden: The Internet Commerce Association.

Nat: So, I care about the policy side of things because I realized that these domains that I was investing in and buying in, that I thought I owned, my ownership in them wasn’t as secure as I thought they were because people…there was a way that you can come and take away domains from a domain owner. And I lost crew.com in a decision that, you know, I thought…

Braden: I was gonna ask if you had some bad decisions.

Nat: Yes. When I was… I had one of the very first UDRPs, I think, on like a dictionary word domain.

Braden: Uniform Dispute Resolution Protocol.

Nat: Dispute Resolution Procedure/Policy. Policy I think.

Braden: Procedure? Policy?

Nat: Yep

Braden: Something P.

Nat: Something with a P in it. Yeah. So, that was something they introduced.

Braden: And that’s how a company claiming trademark rights goes through ICANN to take a name from the registrant.

Nat: Yes. So, if they think that someone is registering a domain to target their trademark, and a lot of people have done that, and that’s a policy that they can use to get the domain transferred to them. And that policy was built for cybersquatting but it’s been expanded and expanded to a lot of investment domains, dictionary word domains. As domain investors, we’re in this tricky situation where we wanna buy domains that companies like, but the issue is that some companies have already liked that name and trademarked it. So, the question is to what extent when you buy this domain are you targeting that trademark that’s there, or are you buying it because it’s got inherent value? And that’s always been the key issue that’s come down. And a lot of the people who are deciding these things are trademark attorneys and they tend to look at it more from the perspective, if the company has a trademark and you don’t, then why are you buying this if you don’t have a trademark? The only possible reason you’d be buying it is to try and target my client who’s got the trademark.

Braden: Which is certainly not the case if it’s a generic word.

Nat: I mean, some people could buy a generic word to target an existing trademark but, you know, domain investors are buying them because the word has inherent value and it could be of interest to anybody in any company.

Braden: Right. Any kind of brand.

Nat: Yeah. So, it’s the… This new policy was written in a broad enough way that a lot of investment domains got caught in that net. And it’s implemented in a way that’s kind of trademark…from a trademark focus. And so you get the wrong guy on the panel and he’ll take a look at it and he’ll just won’t…he won’t give too much credence to the view that this domain has inherent value. He’ll think it’s only because of the trademark value.

Braden: The panelists are the decision makers through the UDRP process.

Nat: Right. They are… They get…

Braden: So, they represent ICANN and get to make the decision, yeah?

Nat: Well, they don’t represent ICANN.

Braden: Signed by ICANN? How would you…?

Nat: It’s a multi-step process and each step there’s less and less accountability. So, ICANN credits these providers of UDRP who get to administrator the UDRP under no contract at all, and then the UDRP providers get to pick who, pretty much under whatever standards they want, to be UDRP panelists. Some of them have no IP background, apparently. And then they’re set up.

Braden: How’s that possible?

Nat: Because their attorneys or lawyers… We don’t know what their criteria are. That’s one of the things. It’s a black box as to how they pick who they’re gonna use as a panelist and they may just not have… Some of their decisions make it pretty clear they don’t have a good understanding of trademark law. So, these are people who are then deciding whether or not you as a domain owner gets to keep your domain name.

Braden: And typically, who are these people? So these panelists, you say, a lot of times are lawyers or IP lawyers?

Nat: Yeah. I hope almost always they have a legal background. Some of them are retired. Some of them are academics. Actually, maybe not all of them are lawyers but a good chunk of them are active trademark attorneys who represent brand owners as clients in their day job and that’s their perspective.

Braden: So the decision makers are on the trademark side of the world.

Nat: Many of them are.

Braden: So, who’s representing the domain investors? So, who’s understanding that perspective? Is there anybody in the mix?

Nat: At the panelist level, very few, I think, have a particular understanding of the domain investment industry. And so, yeah, your… If you just had to do a random draw, the odds are you won’t get somebody. And that’s why most, you know, most people recommend…there’s an option of a three-member panel or a one-member panel. And even though a three-member panel is significantly more expensive, they recommend trying to get three…that it’s better to get three panelists because you gonna have that diversity of perspective and you may just, from the random draw, you may get someone who doesn’t, frankly, doesn’t really have much of a clue or just has a very you know, minority perspective on what’s okay and what’s not okay.

Braden: As a domain investor, my name ends up on one of these panels because a trademark owner is trying to take it from me, even though I just have a generic word and they think they have…I’m infringing on their mark, which I’m not, and then the decision makers are trademark lawyers so I’m not gonna be represented. So, how do we fix that problem?

Nat: That’s a very good question and we don’t have an answer to that. There is a…

Braden: Nat, I come to you for answers.

Nat: Well, I can recommend a good restaurant.

Braden: Okay.

Nat: So, there’s an ICANN process. ICANN is the overall group charged with implementing this whole domain name system. And so they’re the ones who…through which this UDRP, the domain transfer policy was, you know, released or they’re the ones who created it through their process. And so they’re reviewing it for the very first time. And the ICA, of which we’re both members, is actively involved in that process. We haven’t gotten to the UDRP portion of it yet, and we’re hoping that that process will result in a more balanced…there’s trademark interest and trademark owners have rights but domain owners have rights too, and we’d like to see a little better balance there, a little better protections for trademark owners who aren’t infringing. There’s too much at risk now.

Braden: I appreciate the in-depth perspective. I’m gonna give you an opportunity to plug ICA, and then we’re gonna talk about NamesCon.

Nat: Okay.

Braden: So, how does someone support ICA?

Nat: They support by joining. That’s the usual way. They go to ICA.domains, which is our website, and they can learn a lot about it and there’s a chance to join. And they can read various testimonials as to why they should join there. And I can give a whole pitch about why people should join but I’ll leave that to you.

Braden: Well, we’re gonna move on to NamesCon. So, you’ve been in the space a long, long time, 20 plus years?

Nat: My 20th year.

Braden: Wow. Happy anniversary.

Nat: Thank you.

Braden: When somebody says, “What do you do?” What do you say? How do you explain when you say, “I’m a domain investor,” and they say, “What?”

Nat: I’ve tried many different variations and I haven’t settled on anything good yet, but I try and explain, you know, what it means to invest in a domain name. I think the approach I’m taking now is to say that every company that’s on the internet needs a name and there’s a limited pool of good quality names out there and that limited pool is what we call investment quality domains. And that the key thing when somebody has a name is that it can be memorable and you can remember what that name is. And the great thing about existing words is that some people are already familiar with them.

If you have some random combination of letters or some made-up word, no one’s ever heard of that, it’s hard for them to remember it. So there’s a lot of value to a company that that when you say their name, people are gonna remember it. That that name has some kind of meaning, then they get the benefit of that meaning being associated with their brand. So, if you have a nice memorable word that has some positive connotation, that’s a beautiful brand and companies who have big visions for their brand and wanna promote it and advertise it and spend a lot of money getting people to remember it, it’s worth a lot of money over their lifetime to get a brand that has those qualities to it.

Braden: And hopefully, those big companies come to me.

Nat: Me.

Braden: Oh.

Nat: Sorry.

Braden: Us.

Nat: Us. Yes

Braden: So, let’s say somebody wants… Somebody says, “That’s interesting. I wanna do that too.” What do they do? Where do they go? How do they get started?

Nat: Well, they’re lucky because there’s a tremendous amount of…tremendous number of people in the domain industry who are providing a tremendous amount of useful information for free and are just being very generous with their knowledge. So, there’s sites like domainsherpa.com, blogs like domaininvesting.com, domainnamewire.com, dnjournal.com. I’m leaving out the domainshane.com.

Braden: Or they can go to domaining.com which is an aggregator of all the…

Nat: Right. That’s a good…domaining.com. Yeah. You can find all sorts of…many, many of the blogs there. And once you dive in, there’s no end of excellent content and advice that you’ll get. So, I think, once you get started, you’ll get plenty of information there. And of course, come to NamesCon. I’ve said the right thing.

Braden: Yeah. That’s where we’re gonna go.

Nat: All right. Because this is where everybody is and the people are very generous with their information and there’s tons of sessions, especially geared towards newcomers to the industry that can get them, get you guys up and running and going after the better quality names, steering clear of bad investments.

Braden: So NamesCon, we’ve got about 1,300 attendees. It’s pretty good. It’s the most we’ve ever had in any domain conference ever.

Nat: Yeah.

Braden: Right? Including internationally. I don’t think there’s ever been a bigger name…

Nat: I believe you.

Braden: Yeah. Because I go to those.

Nat: Yes.

Nat: You’re out there.

Braden: 400 people maybe was the biggest one in Hong Kong. But this is huge. Everyone comes to this conference. It’s a great place to come meet people, network, and all the old school guys like you are here and then people can grab us and talk to us and ask questions. And we’re up on stage and we’re doing panels and there’s a lot of information to be learned here.

Nat: Yeah. There’s a lot of valuable information and there’s a number of, you know, there’s some people I’ve talked to over the year and they’re interested in domains. And I say…and a couple of them have come to NamesCon just because it’s like, “This is where I need to be,” and they’re not really domain investors but they have a good quality domain or they wanna learn more and this is the place to come.

Braden: Yeah. And they can also… We mentioned blogs. We mentioned NamesCon, and there’s also forums like NamePros.

Nat: What’s NamePros?

Braden: You haven’t heard it?

Nat: No.

Braden: Maybe…

Nat: Oh, NamePros. Yes, NamePros. That’s a great, great place to go. No, NamePros has done a wonderful job of creating a ton of excellent content, video interviews.

Braden: Right.

Nat: Yes. And my hats are off.

Braden: And you can ask questions to people in the forum and get answers and…

Nat: Yeah. My hats are off to the NamePros for stepping up and really creating a ton of valuable information for us.

Braden: Great content. Yeah. Okay. Nat, thank you for joining us. I appreciate your time. It’s great information. Thank you.[/scroll-box]

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domain branding

Translations.com – Invest in the domain, not the formal branding effort

Philip Shawe is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of TransPerfect, a global family of companies and the world’s largest privately held provider of language and business services. Phil oversees the day-to-day operations of the company.

Under Phil’s leadership, TransPerfect has received numerous awards and distinctions. The company is a seven-time honoree of the Inc. 5000 Award, a six-time honoree of the Deloitte Technology Fast 500, and has earned multiple Stevie Awards for Sales and Customer Service. Crain’s New York Business has ranked TransPerfect as one of the largest privately held companies nine years in a row. TransPerfect was also named to fastest-growing lists six times by Entrepreneur.

Mike:  Tell me how you came to acquire Translations.com.  Can you talk about the process you went through to acquire the name? 

Phil: When we decided to establish the technology division in the late 90s, Translations.com seemed an obvious choice. The head of our corporate development efforts, Mike Sank, looked into acquiring the domain and we determined that the cost was about the same as we’d spend on a professional branding exercise so we opted to pay the expense and get on with developing the business.

Mike:  What exactly do you do at Translations.com?  Clearly some form of translations but I know it is really much more than that. 

Phil: Translations.com was initially focused on providing language services for companies that were dealing with digital content, while the predecessor company, TransPerfect, represented more of the brick-and-mortar side of the business, with offerings such as document translation, interpretation, and multilingual desktop publishing. The increase in demand for software localization and web localization, and the need to cater toward the unique requirements of those projects drove the need to create a specialized team. Through some very strategic mergers and the development of our own technology, the Translations.com division now offers flagship technology products that help customer manage their translation workflow in digital environments. Translations.com also produces those same software products for our internal use company-wide, which help the whole of TransPerfect operate more efficiently, and we are able to pass those best-practices and saving on our clients, with the net result of providing higher value solutions than our competition.

domain branding

Mike:  Focusing specifically on you, you seem to have done quite well in business.  Do you feel that is due to skills that you have learned, personality traits that you naturally have, a combination, or something else?

Phil: Ultimately, I attribute much of my success to the team of people I’ve managed to gather around me. While I do think I’ve got some talent in a few important areas of business, what’s made me the most successful is an ability to identify, motivate and retain others, who possess the true talent that drives our business. TransPerfect and Translations.com have grown to have over 4,000 employees working in over 30 countries, out of over 100 offices worldwide — revenues of more than $615MM in 2017 — and we just completed our 100th straight quarter of profitable growth. None of that would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the team we’ve assembled. I have learned a ton about management in those 25 years, but I continue to learn with each passing day, and I’m looking forward to next 25 years which has just begun.

Mike:  Are you willing to share what you paid for the name? 

Phil: I believe we paid in the neighborhood of $75,000 at the time. As I mentioned before, that was comparable to what we’d have paid for a separate branding exercise run by a marketing firm — so we thought, let’s get a recognizable and memorable domain name — along with the name of our new tech-focused company.  It was very hip at the time to be a “dot com.” — and it may be so retro now that we’ve survived all this time, that it may become hip again.

Mike:  How much traffic does the name pull in on a monthly basis? 

Phil:  While those numbers are informative, they don’t matter as much to us as they might to some other brands as our website is not an e-commerce platform. We’ve got highly professional sales and client service teams that really drive our revenues. Still, even after all these years, we do get new leads directly from the site and some of those have grown into major client relationships.

Mike:  How important would you say a good domain name is to an online business’ success? 

Phil:  I definitely think that a good domain name is helpful in terms of building a brand and having easy name recognition. For example, if your domain name is really long or hard to remember, every time a salesperson tells someone how to get in touch with them via email, there’s an opportunity for confusion and missed messages. But at the end of the day, what’s most important is the quality of the product or service your offering and the commitment your team makes to its customers. So while I’d advocate for being thoughtful about a domain and making sure it’s memorable, easy to spell, and culturally appropriate, I wouldn’t obsess over it at the expense of properly delivering services or technology solutions to your clients.

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Women in Domaining: Cyntia King

This week I am pleased to feature Cyntia King.  She has been described as a “Powerhouse intellectual property broker.” She’s spent 10+ years buying/selling IP (domains, TMs, patents, stock symbols, business DBAs, phone #s, and more) with prices ranging from 4-7 figures. Ms. King launched her own IP consulting company, Modern IP, in 2017.

Mike:  What you do doesn’t seem like something one can learn at school.  How did you perfect your craft?  Did you have mentors along the way that have helped you develop?

Cyntia:  I enjoy a challenge and have been lucky enough to be in the right place/time for some unique opportunities.

My career in IP started when a neighbor complained that he was too busy.  His job sounded interesting, so I pressed for an interview, which I got a month later.  My fascination with the industry was immediate.  And that neighbor – Dane Hill – turned out to be an amazing mentor.  He answered endless questions & offered a level of support most people never get.

The fact is that I love the work.  Mark Cuban said, “Sweat equity is the most valuable equity there is.  Know your business and industry better than anyone else in the world.  Love what you do or don’t do it.”  I’ve actively looked for opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills.  I asked for the toughest and most unusual cases; networked with the most knowledgeable professionals, and have made an effort to be honest and equitable in my dealings with clients and colleagues.  Like the man said, love it or don’t do it.

Mike:  Being a woman in business can sometimes present challenges.  Have you found that to be true in your career?  If so, please expand on that. 

Cyntia:  I got my gun safety certificate at 13, tried out for the wrestling team as a freshman, was a featured dancer in a college production, managed a heavy metal band, ran the front office of a modeling school/agency & have succeeded in a field dominated by men.  Obviously, I’ve never been overly concerned about gender roles and I have to admit that I rarely register gender bias.  While I’ve seen a decidedly male bent in the industry (like domain conference finales at the Playboy Mansion), I haven’t encountered anything I couldn’t overcome.  In the face of bad behavior, I acknowledge it, address with a little humor, and get back to work.  I do love the work.

Mike:  What advantages and disadvantages have you found having a female-owned business? 

Cyntia:  The biggest challenge I have as a business owner is work-life balance.  I know this is true for most executives, but I do believe there’s still an expectation that women fill the role of primary household caretaker.  It’s tough to balance client obligations and family responsibilities.  There are many days that I think I need a wife of my own.  My best advice to women in business is learn to say “no”.  You’re better off to acknowledge that you can’t be all things to all people, so be honest about what you can do.

Mike: Would you consider yourself a role model to other young women in the industry?

Cyntia: I’d like to think of myself as more of an inspiration than a role model.  I’m the person who prefers to take the path less traveled.  That track is both uniquely beautiful and full of potential difficulties.  Every person who steps off the beaten path has to navigate the course in their own way and I absolutely support that kind of individuality.

Mike:  Obviously, intellectual property is important, but many small businesses don’t realize they need to trademark, patent, or otherwise protect and secure their IP.  What advice do you have for small businesses?

Cyntia:  According to Ocean Tomo (a capital advisory firm), the average intangible asset value of S&P 500 companies is 84%.  That’s huge.

Most new businesses, though, start by concentrating on their product/service.  It’s only after they’ve achieved some success that they think about protecting their intangibles.  By this time they could well be a victim of their own success.  The marketplace is full of stories like: (1) the company that sees market traction only to be served with a C&D letter demanding they change their name because someone else already has the trademark; (2) the business that finally gets venture capital funding only to find that the domain name they need is now an order of magnitude more costly because the registrant read about the investment; or (3) the scammer who monitors the Trademark office for new filings, then goes out and registers the corresponding domains.

Bottom Line:  It’s important to have an intellectual property plan and that often means consulting an IP professional.

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Video Interview: Kevin Fink with Todd Han of Dynadot

This next NamePros video features Todd Han of Dynadot talking about the GTLDS and his first experience at NamesCon.  This video is from a couple years back.  Let’s see how the discussion played out.  Please note that the transcript is available below.  Please note the full transcript is availbale below the video.

[scroll-box]Kevin: We’re here at NamesCon 2016. I’m joined by Todd Han of Dynadot. Todd, it’s great to meet you.

Todd: Nice to meet you as well, Kevin.

Kevin: This is your first NamesCon. Tell me about the experience so far and how you’ve enjoyed it.

Todd: Well, actually I love it. I like how the conference center is set up. There’s a lot of traffic to our booth, seeing a lot of new faces. So actually, I think it’s a great event, yeah.

Kevin: So you founded Dynadot 2002?

Todd: Right.

Kevin: That’s pushing its 15th year now. Tell us about the C change of the domain industry and what’s happened over even just the last few years and where you guys are at now.

Todd: Well, when we started the company 2002, we had three TLDs: .COM, .NET, .ORG. Over the next five years, we added maybe five more: .BIZ, .INFO, .MOBI, .ASIA, .TEL. And then in 2014, we added 300 more. It was a C change, yeah.

Kevin: And how has the influx of Chinese investors in the last year or so changed Dynadot in terms of not only how you’ve had to adjust to interact with customers, but just also on a business level?

Todd: That’s a great point. We actually have been in China for the last three years. We have an office there. We have a Dev team, and we have customer service there. And that wasn’t because we knew this was gonna happen, we just knew that China was a big market, you know. But, like you said, this year, China just blew up. I ran the numbers just last week and our revenue in RMB in 2015 was 20x what it was in 2014. So that’s a 2,000% increase.

Kevin: Incredible, man. Congratulations.

Todd: They’re just buying everything.

Kevin: Yeah. That’s an incredible growth for you guys. So what are some… I don’t know if you can speak of maybe some…maybe not top-secret things but some changes on your end or some product enhancements or innovations that you hope to enact on the registrar level or…I know you guys have other things like drop catching and… What are some things that we can look forward to as customers?

Todd: Well, probably the biggest thing is just the selection of TLDs we have now. That was a ton of work for us to add, you know, 300 TLDs into our system. So, we sell pretty much everything. Our prices are good and, you know, they all come with our control panel, which is, you know, people say it’s one of the best in the industry. You can also you know, taste the new GTLDs if you want, it works with our Grace Deletion System. We have expired auctions on them.

So, you know, it’s been a year now, so some of them are starting to drop. So you can check out new GTLDs at our auctions. Other stuff, we also do a lot of business on the retail side. We’re trying to sell domains to end users as well, that’s actually half our business. The other half is selling to domain investors. And so on that side , we have a site builder where you can, you know, you just drag and drop, putting images onto the website, write text, and it’s online, just like that.

You don’t need to know any HTML. So we have that product. Actually, domainers use that as well, just to throw up something, you know, to do testing or just to throw up like a for sale page or whatever. And that product is actually free for the first five pages. So that took us a couple years to build out. And as far as anything beyond that, it’s probably just incremental improvement for this year. We’re gonna add more GTLDs. We’re gonna move back to starting to add CCTLDs back in our system.

Kevin: Speaking of the new extensions, the two-part question, I’m curious the top-performing newer extensions on Dynadot. I’m also curious if you have any favorites of your own?

Todd: You know, you can look at it in two ways in terms of volume, registrations or in terms of revenue. In terms of volume, I think we sell the most .CLUB and .XYZ. In terms of revenue, you know, .XYZs, you know, pretty much have been discounted the whole time. So, you know, even though we sell a lot of it, we don’t make as much. In terms of revenue, we had surprising results from some of the smaller ones like .ONE, and that kind of ties in with your previous question like this Chinese domainer has kind of jumped all over that one for some reason.

Kevin: I’ve noticed it.

Todd: Yeah. Right.

Kevin: It’s really interesting. Yeah.

Todd: Yeah. So I think we’re one of the top…I think we’re number two registrar in the world for .ONE due to our Chinese customer base. My personal favorite, I really like .NINJA. It’s just fun, quirky. You know, I think a lot of domains are very serious like .COM, .NET, .ORG, you know, but .NINJAS is like… Well, you can just do whatever with it, you know. It’s more fun, you know. I think our industry is very serious but it’s good to have some fun once in a while.

Kevin: It’s getting maybe a little a bit of a sense of humor of .LOL and other things.

Todd: Exactly. Or .WTO [SP]. Yeah.

Kevin: What are some words of advice that you might give a new domain, someone new to the space?

Todd: Talk to the old domainers, they have seen everything already. There is a lot of skepticism by the old-timers. And so if I were a domainer, I would talk to them. I mean, they’ve seen everything. They’ve seen the tasting come in and leave. They’ve seen Google clamp down on PPC. They’ve seen multiple TLDs launch and fail. So, all the knowledge is already there, you just have to ask the right people, yeah.

Kevin: This is the closing day of the conference. Is there any highlights that you’ve experienced so far, whether the keynotes talks, just meeting people in general, and walking around?

Todd: So for me, my favorite part is just seeing the friends I’ve made over the years and also meeting new people. So that’s my personal highlight. In terms of the business, I think no question, the biggest talking point was the Chinese economy. What I heard was, you know, up till 2010 or 2012, everyone was putting their money into real estate in China.

And then, you know, around 2012, the government was kind of trying to suppress the price. They raised interest rates. They limited how many properties you could buy. So, people started investing in the stock market. And the market in China, I think it tripled in the last three years or something ridiculous like that, until this summer. And then it had a mini-crash.

And then last week it crashed again. So people can’t invest in real estate, they can’t invest in stocks. So where’s that money gonna go? It turns out a lot of it went into domain names. And I think that’s what we’re seeing and other asset classes. I’ve heard fine art. I’ve heard wine. I’ve heard precious metals. So that was a real highlight just talking to CNNIC, talking to Chinese domainers, just seeing what they had to say about that.

Kevin: That’s interesting. Yeah. We’ve spoken to a few people who’ve heard various insights as to whether this either current or hopefully not future turbulence in the markets is going to affect domains, whether more people are gonna buy into it or people are gonna kind of withdraw from it from the market.

Todd: Yeah. What I heard was as long as the Chinese economy is not doing well, domains will do well. Once the Chinese economy picks up again, they’re gonna start investing in real estate and stocks again.

Kevin: Okay. That’s interesting. We’ll see what happens. [crosstalk 00:07:54]

Todd: That’s what I heard about it but I’m not an economist.

Kevin: Neither am I. Neither am I. So I know that Dynadot has a presence on NamePros. We’re here with NamePros in partnership with them.

Todd: We have CSRs on NamePros for sure. You know, a lot of people are actually more comfortable asking questions amongst their friends on the forums than asking us directly, and we’re actually fine with that. You know, we have nothing to hide. If you have a problem and it’s our fault, you know, we’ll fix it.

We’re not gonna try to cover it up or something. So we’re perfectly happy with people discussing things on NamePros. NamePros has been partners of ours for a long time now. I think even when we just started like, you know, people were talking about us on the forums on NamePros. And you know, from a business perspective, I mean, we work with NamePros. We do ads on NamePros, occasionally when we have specials of promos. So we’re really happy with our relationship with NamePros. And I think, you know, they’re part of the ecosystem, they’re a valuable part of the ecosystem. And so we’re just… We’re very grateful that people like us on NamePros. Yeah.

Kevin: Well, it was good to meet you. It was good speaking with you. And I look forward to seeing you next year.

Todd: Thank you so much, Kevin. I really appreciate your time. [/scroll-box]

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